By Penelope Wall , December 20, 2010 - 3:59pm
I have a girlfriend who is like a real-life Martha Stewart when it comes to throwing parties. She greets you at the door, hands you a glass filled with her latest signature elderflower-pomegranate-spritzer-with-a-twist cocktail and draws you into her cozy home filled with candles-a-burning, fire-a-blazing and an oh-so-perfect tablescape that would give even Sandra Lee a run for her money. The guests are always beautiful, perfectly chatty and nice. The food is always gourmet, always delicious.
Related: Delicious New Year’s Eve Recipes 
I love my friend’s parties, but I also know that she goes to great effort to make them as perfect as possible. And there are times when that is totally appropriate, especially for more intimate crowds. But on the other hand, a party isn’t a party if you can’t just relax and, well, party, right?
So this New Year’s, it’s my turn to host. My husband and I are throwing an end-of-year bash and while I do want it to be special and memorable, I also want to be able to let my hair down and enjoy myself. So how to throw a fabulous fete without sweating the small stuff? Here are some words of wisdom I’ve gathered from some of the party-throwing veterans here at EatingWell:
1. Plan on making something for everyone to enjoy. Carolyn Malcoun, one of EatingWell’s contributing food editors, says to make sure you’ve accounted for possible allergies and special diets, then plan a well-rounded menu that everyone can enjoy: vegetarians, gluten-freebies and the like. This goes for drinks too. Be sure to serve festive nonalcoholic options. My perennial go-to is hot apple cider. It’s elegant without being fussy. Pomegranate juice & seltzer spritzers served in a pretty glass are perfect for the New Year’s toast.
2. Keep it simple. Grocery stores are madhouses at the holidays. There’s no sense in traveling all about town in search of pricy, exotic ingredients. Plan on seasonal menu items that call for standard, easy-to-find, but still healthful ingredients. I like to have at least a couple of healthier finger foods that require no prep at all: a pretty bowlful of clementines, air-popped popcorn, dried fruit and nuts.
3. No cook, no fuss. If it’s just cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, I don’t bother with the oven or stove—it can be too stressful with everything else going on. Instead, I serve simple, no-cook appetizers, so there’s no need to worry about timers or burning or keeping things warm. Just assemble and serve!
Recipes to try: Last-Minute No-Cook Appetizers 
4. Keep your guests awake. Beware of the food coma—it’s a long way till midnight. Research shows that some brain cells are actually sluggish after too much food. Fluctuating glucose apparently affects those cells’ production of proteins called orexins, which regulate levels of consciousness. If you’re hosting dinner, solve the problem of drowsy brains by serving lighter fare and plenty of vegetables. Just make sure there is enough food to balance out the booze. On that note...
5. Serve food all night. “If you put everything out at 8:00 p.m. and pour the Cosmos, the food’s going to run out and someone’s going to be donning a lampshade by 9:30,” say EatingWell contributors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. Researchers long ago reached the conclusion—known by the rest of us through experience—that food in the stomach slows alcohol on its trip to the small intestine, where it is most efficiently absorbed. “So put food out all night to balance the wine, beer and cocktails. Keep some food back, a surprise to come—and better for your guests’ health anyway.”
Related: What to Eat When You Have a Hangover 
6. Use smaller platters and refill them often. “For food-safety reasons as well, you should hold back some food in the refrigerator,” says EatingWell Test Kitchen Manager Stacy Fraser. “There’s nothing festive about a platter of shrimp cocktail that’s been left at room temperature for five hours. Keep some in the refrigerator and replenish your platter every hour or so to keep your special food from going to waste—and keep your guests from getting food poisoning.”
7. Let guests bring the beverages. Most guests want to contribute something to the party. Let them bring the wine, beer or seltzer so you can focus on the food. Or e-mail them a yummy cocktail recipe to make.
Recipes to try: Pomegranate Mimosas & More Festive Holiday Cocktails 
8. Play up the punch bowl. This is your chance to try out a new signature cocktail—and keep sticky fingers out of your liquor cabinet. And the best thing about party punch is it’s easy to make for a crowd and requires nothing more than a ladle to serve, which means you’re not stuck in the kitchen mixing cocktails all night long.
Related: 5 Hot Drinks to Perk Up Your Punch Bowl 
9. The dishes can wait. “We have a friend,” say Weinstein and Scarbrough, “who makes a lovely meal, takes one bite and runs for the kitchen to start cleaning. Not exactly scintillating dinner conversation. Those dishes will be there later anyway—and you’ll be fortified to attack them after an evening of grazing on cocktail-party treats.”
10. Celebrate at your own party. If you’re hiding in the kitchen all night or running around cleaning up spills, you’re ruining your own party. Make as much as you can ahead of time; have just a little last-minute assembly. Put away breakables and cherished objects out of reach for the night, so you don’t have to worry about them getting damaged. That way, you can relax and enjoy yourself.
What are your secrets to throwing a great party without a lot of fuss?
More from EatingWell: